RTI - Essentials of right to information

Basic Information
It came into force on the 12th October, 2005. The Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Right to Information includes the right to -

  1. inspect works, documents, records.
  2. take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
  3. take certified samples of material.
  4. obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

Thus, information means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force. According to the Central Information Commission (CIC)’s order, issued in January 2006 (Satyapal v/s TCIL), file notings are under the purview of the RTI Act 2005. (Times of India dated June 28, 2006)

The definition also includes "information relating to a private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law". This provision is designed to keep the onus on the Government to collect information from private bodies, rather than requiring the public to chase private bodies themselves.

Time Limits: Thirty days for normal applications and 40 days where a third party submissions is to be called for. In a novel approach, these time limits are reduced to a mere 48 hours where the information sought "concerns the life and liberty of a person".

Fees: The application fee is explicitly required to be "reasonable" and no fee shall be charged from persons who are 'below the poverty line', as determined by the Government. Where a public authority fails to comply with time limits under the Act, the information shall be provided to them free of charge.

Public Interest Override: All of the exemptions under the Act (except the exemption for information which is subject to copyright) are subject to a public interest override, whereby information may be disclosed "if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests".

Independent Appeals: The Act establishes new Information Commissions at the Centre and in all the States. The Commissions are given broad powers to hear appeals and are also tasked with regular monitoring of the law (including production of annual reports). The Commissions can make any order required to bring about compliance with the law, including ordering release of documents, appointment of PIOs and publication of specified information. The Commissions are made up of a Chief Information Commissioner and up to 10 Information Commissioners.

Penalties: Every PIO can be penalised Rs. 250 per day up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000 for not accepting application; delaying information release without reasonable cause; denying information in bad faith; knowingly giving incomplete, incorrect, misleading information; destroying information that has been requested and obstructing furnishing of information in any manner.  However, the Act still retains a number of restrictive provisions, which could be abused to deny information, which rightly belongs in the public domain.

  1. Cabinet Exemption: An overly broad exemption has been included for "Cabinet papers, including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers". A proviso is added that decisions of the Council of Ministers, their reasons and the materials on the basis of which the decisions were made will be published after a decision is taken and the matter is complete. However, there is no mention of a definition of Cabinet paper.
  2. The exemption to records of deliberations of "Secretaries and other officers" is unjustifiably broad and could be used to exempt a large amount of non-sensitive information.
  3. Intelligence & Security Agencies Exemption: A range of Central intelligence & security agencies are specifically and entirely exempted from the Act, except where the information request pertains to allegations of corruption or human rights violations. (In the latter case, the Information Commission will make the decision regarding whether or not to release the information.)
  4. State Governments are also permitted to prescribe their own list of intelligence & security agencies, which will be exempted from the Act.
  5. Twenty Year Rules Exemptions: A number of exemptions will continue to apply on some information which is more than 20 years old, most notably, the information classified as "prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relations with foreign States of which would lead to the incitement of an offence", the Cabinet exemption, and the exemption for information which would cause a breach of parliamentary privilege if disclosed.
  6. Public Authorities as Third Parties: Third parties are permitted to make representations where a PIO intends to disclosure information supplied by the third party and "treated as confidential by the third party". There is some concern that this provision could be abused in practice to improperly delay responses to requests, particularly because the Act defined third parties to include other public authorities.

Thus, this Act chiefly provides:

  1. The President will appoint the Chief Information Commissioner, and Governors of States will appoint State Information Commissioners to implement the Act. They will be autonomous functionaries with five-year terms.
  2. The chief information commissioner and state information commissioners will publish their annual reports on the implementation of the Act.
  3. The annual reports will be tabled before Parliament/state legislatures.
  4. 'Information' about events that took place 10 years before the date of request can be provided.
  5. Provision for varying penalties or fines (Rs. 250 per day and to a maximum of Rs. 25,000) for delaying without reasonable cause beyond the stipulated 30 days, including mala-fide refusal to give or destroying information or knowingly giving out wrong information to an RTI applicant.
  6. Government bodies have to publish details of staff payments and budgets.
  7. An applicant will be given the choice to make a request either under provisions of the central Act or the State Act. (Eight State governments· have implemented their own Right to Information laws.)

Constitution of the Central Information Commission (Website: www.cic.gov.in )
Mr Satyanand Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner,
Central Information Commission, IInd Floor, ‘B’ Wing, August Kranti Bhawan,
Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi-110066

Manjunath Trust National Helpline number: 080-666-00-999
RTI Links

To seek information from PMO


To seek information on Army


Min. of Urban Dev. Govt. of India



To download Suggestive Application Format for seeking information